Review of Endless Night by Agatha Christie
by Agatha Christie
Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
I wasn’t too familiar with Dame Agatha’s forays into novels not associated with Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. I’d read some of her Parker Pyne work, but that was about it. I really enjoy the Poirot mysteries in particular. My roommate lent me this slip of a story, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first. I’m still not sure now. Endless Night is a sneaky little devil of a story, classic Christie in that respect.
Michael Rogers meets a “poor little rich girl”, as he calls Ellie, and marries her. They buy the property of his dreams—the cursed Gipsy Acres—and hire a renowned architect to build the house of their dreams. Everything for Michael seems to be looking up, but the warnings of a gipsy haunt him and Ellie as they try to make their own life far away from Ellie’s grasping, greedy American relatives.
This novel, despite its small size, is a slow burn. Like a lot of Christie’s work, the meat of the story is the conflict between what characters want and what their social position allows them to have. Michael is a young, aimless man who doesn’t have much in the way of money or roots; it seems that his only relative is his mother, whom he visits more out of habit than attachment, and he doesn’t really have any friends. Ellie is practically smothered with companions, none of whom she would call a friend—with the exception of the exceptional Greta. As the heiress to a fortune, Ellie is the focal point of a massive operation to manage her wealth. Michael is exactly the kind of person her stepmother would not like her to meet—but she does, and they marry.
Christie uses the superstition surrounding Gipsy’s Acre to create an atmosphere of suspense. As Michael meets Ellie’s various relatives and retainers, his role as the narrator casts them in a suspicious light—which one of them will seize upon the idea of using the property’s shadowy past as a smokescreen for their own malfeasance? Everything seems to be going Michael and Ellie’s way, so much so that, given that this is a Christie novel, I started getting antsy, wondering it would all go horribly wrong.
You have to wait until very near to the end for Endless Night to pay off, and it’s really not worth discussing the book without venturing into spoiler territory. The twist is a brilliant use of the unreliable narrator, because it forces you to re-evaluate everything you think you know about these characters.
Suddenly, Michael becomes not a happy-go-lucky, wounded widower but instead a scheming, deceitful, cold-hearted murderer. Greta isn’t the friend but the unapologetic manipulator. Ellie is still a victim, but she is no longer the victim of superstition or the supernatural … she’s the victim of regular, old murder. Christie hints and teases and tantalizes with the supernatural, only to strip it away and reveal it as a red herring.
This isn’t a typical mystery novel. There is no detective using his little grey cells. Michael essentially confesses, both to us and to the doctor. Though the latter uncovered evidence that might eventually have led to Michael’s arrest, it’s possible he would have gone undetected if he hadn’t killed Greta as well. It seems, though, that he had developed a taste for killing. If anything, I think he was rather nonplussed about how easy the entire operation had been.
Some authors have probably delved into the minds of killers, and had killers as their narrators (unreliable or otherwise), and done this type of psychological thriller in greater or more intense detail. Endless Night is not a “light” work, but it is concerned more with plot than it is the characters that drive it. Which is not to knock Christie’s grasp of character—I think that’s pretty profound—but she doesn’t spend the time analyzing her characters more than is necessary for telling her story. This is an economical work, in keeping with the style that has made her such an enduring author.